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Innovations in Wellness: Global Wellness

This is one of the Innovations in Wellness selected by editors of Human Resource Executive® magazine.

Friday, April 1, 2011
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If you think it's tough getting your organization's U.S. employees to embrace wellness, try imagining the hurdles faced by companies with employees spread throughout the globe.

"Wellness outside the U.S. is a very different game," says Renee Janosch, senior director of global benefits for Mountain View, Calif.-based software provider Symantec.

She says that, because many developing countries can't provide residents with regular access to common medical services -- such as routine physicals -- innovating "internationally essentially means 'bringing it back to basics' " when it comes to wellness programs.

"Internationally, folks haven't even started to think about their own health and the accountability aspect of it," she says. "As employers, we have to take that next step to educate employees and their families as to why health is important."

To that end, Symantec routinely offers on-site health evaluations to its employees in India, Janosch says, "because the basics of traveling and visiting a physician just in itself can be daunting [there], and ... bringing the services directly to the employee can increase participation dramatically."

Global wellness efforts must be flexible in order to be effective, she says, noting that while Symantec's on-site clinics offer flu vaccinations regularly, requests are becoming more frequent for hepatitis vaccinations in locations where that disease is more dangerous than the flu bug.

"We are in discussions on how we [will] offer these to our employees this year," she adds.

At PSI, a Washington-based global-health organization with more than 8,000 employees working in 67 countries, fighting AIDS has become a cornerstone of the company's global wellness program, especially in African countries where the disease is rampant.

"We organize health days, where employees and their families receive voluntary HIV counseling and testing, and we provide ongoing support for those in need, throughout their time with PSI and beyond," says senior manager Anna Dirksen.

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At Eaton Corp., a Cleveland-based power-management company with 70,000 employees in 150 countries, the organization uses a five-pillar approach to managing wellness around the globe, says Gordon Harman, vice president of global benefits.

The pillars -- Know Your Biometric Numbers, Get Fit, Eat Healthy, Be Tobacco Free and Manage Stress -- allow for flexibility because different locations can choose which pillars to emphasize. For example, Eaton's sites in Mexico are emphasizing "Be Tobacco Free" and will be declared entirely "smoke-free" later this year, while in China, an EAP has been set up to help Eaton employees there manage stress, which Harman calls a top priority in that country.

"It's important that companies have a global perspective for their philosophy and strategy, but the specific wellness programs offered must be relevant at a local level," says Jayne Lux, vice president of the Global Health Benefits Institute, which is part of the National Business Group on Health in Washington.

"Cultural competence is critically important and goes well beyond basic language translation," she adds. "How information is communicated, to whom and when, are very important considerations when building programs that will be successful and sustainable locally."

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